ride ready

4 Weeks to a Great Ride: A Training Guide for the Underprepared

Several months ago you signed up for a big summer event, with plenty of time to train for it. Now that long awaited event is only weeks away, you’ve realized you’re not ride ready and you’re hitting the panic button. Before you do anything stupid, take a breath and keep reading. As coaches we deal with this scenario every summer, and here’s what you need to know about your predicament.

It’s almost never as bad as you think it is

Athletes are almost always their own worst critics. In my experience, if you think you are woefully unprepared for your event, it’s more likely you’re only moderately unprepared. That’s an important distinction because I see too many athletes throw in the towel too soon because they couldn’t see how close they were to being ready for a good performance.

Make sure you’re not just tired

One month out from a big event can be a confusing time for athletes. At this point you’re likelu in or at the end of a big training block. You’re exhausted. You feel sluggish and heavy on the bike, you’re irritable off the bike, and your mood is dour. This is precisely the time when some athletes make poor decisions and send their training off the rails.

Before you abandon or dramatically change the plan you’ve been working on for months, take a breath and look back over your training data. If you’ve done the work and are tired, the evidence will be right there in black and white (or blue and grey if you use TrainingPeaks). Start backing off the workload by reducing training volume but be sure to retain some intensity by keeping intervals in your schedule. Over the next few weeks the fatigue will fade and your form will emerge.

If a review of your training data reveals you really didn’t do the work, well… keep reading.

Don’t Cram for the Exam

Cramming for exams in college wasn’t a great strategy, and when it comes to training, cramming is even less effective. If you have been training 2-3 times per week, you can’t just jump to 5-6 training sessions per week and expect to make up for lost time. Training doesn’t work that way. No matter how motivated you now are, the principle of overload-and-recovery still applies. Cramming adds a lot of overload at the expense of adequate recovery, and athletes just end up exhausted. You can make progress between now and your event, but you have to be smart about it and respect your need for rest.

Add PowerIntervals for Fast Fitness

Some workouts have greater leverage than others. In other words, you have to accumulate a lot of time at low to moderate intensities to achieve a measurable improvement in aerobic performance (lots of input for little movement). However, you can achieve significant improvements in power at VO2 max (which helps pull your power at lactate threshold up) with less time spent at very high intensities. In this case, it’s less input for more movement.

Two to three PowerInterval workouts per week (e.g. Two sets of 6x3minute max intensity intervals separated by 3 minutes easy spinning recovery, with 8 minutes recovery between sets.) over a 2-3 week period can deliver a noticeable boost in cycling power for the short term. This power and fitness will fade quickly, too, because it’s not supported by a deep foundation of training workload. However, when the runway is short you have to get up to speed quickly, PowerIntervals are a great way to give your performance a lift.

Don’t overload on volume

If you’ve been half-heartedly and sporadically riding over the past several weeks instead of ramping up your workload in preparation for your event, doubling or tripling your weekly volume now won’t help. Intervals will do more to increase your power output and allow for more rest between sessions. If you are preparing for a long day in the saddle (e.g gran fondo, endurance MTB, gravel race) you’ll want to include some long training rides, but these are more for conditioning your rear end, dialing in your nutrition/hydration routines, and providing a refresher course on mental toughness.

Don’t miss more workouts

Athletes get into this situation because of missed training more than because of a poorly-designed training plan. If you had done enough volume and some intensity – even if the plan wasn’t perfect – you’d be close to ready. To be way off the mark with four weeks to go, you most likely missed a bunch of workouts. From now until your event, shift your priorities, put yourself first, and stop missing your workouts. Consistency is critically important. With a good stress/recovery balance you take two steps forward, a small step back to recover, and two more steps forward. Taking too much time between workouts is like taking two steps forward and three steps backward.`

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Remove barriers to performance

You won’t be able to make massive physiological improvements in a handful of weeks. Therefore, it’s important to simultaneously remove as many barriers to performance as you can. Get more sleep and take steps to improve the quality of your sleep. Reduce lifestyle and job stress as much as you can. Focus on the nutritional quality of your meals, but don’t proactively restrict calories in an effort to drop weight. It’s too late for that. At this point caloric restriction will just rob you of energy for high-quality workouts and optimal recovery.

Prevent Chronic Dehydration

Along with improved sleep, reduced stress, and good nutrition, it’s important to stay on top of your hydration needs. Chronic dehydration is something to particularly watch out for. When you are training day after day, especially in the summer, you can gradually fall behind on hydration. It starts when you don’t fully replenish after a single workout, then fail to catch up in the evening. By morning you are more significantly behind, and then you go into your next workout already slightly dehydrated. Each day you fall a bit further behind, and both your performance and recovery suffer.

To help assess your daily hydration status, try using the WUT protocol from Samuel Cheuvront, Ph.D., and Michael Sawka, Ph.D., FACSM. This simple index assesses your Weight, Urine, and Thirst first thing in the morning. When two of the three indicate dehydration, you likely need to improve your daily fluid intake.

Seek Guidance from a Coach

Trust me, it’s not too late to consult with a professional endurance coach. We’ve seen the scenario you’re facing a thousand times, with all types of athletes. A coach can’t work miracles, but we can help you navigate this critical time so you have a positive experience at your event. Some of that includes workouts, but it also encompasses helping you set challenging but realistic goals based on your current reality, helping you dial in nutrition/hydration strategies, and keeping you away from that panic button!

To make it easier for you to access a professional CTS Coach for a bit of emergency coaching, we have a month-to-month package available so we can help you have a great experience at your upcoming event. Give it a try, just don’t wait any longer. Your runway is getting shorter by the day.

By Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS

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Comments 6

  1. Great article and comments. I am soon to be free of mandatory employent. To add insult to injury, I have spent the last three years in an industry that is known for sleep deprivation and unpredictable, irregular scheduling. This has had a disatrous effect on my fitness, but I have done what I can when I can do it.

    I am registered for two events this fall, and I will have 7 weeks between my retirement date and the first event. I was just about to do the wrong thing, and completely wear myself out!


  2. Nice article and very timely. An additional item: don’t try to lose 20lbs in those last couple of months pre-event….

  3. Good article. I have been told by a sports medicine doc that you shouldn’t increase distance by more than 10% per week. Do you feel that this is a reasonable approach to training?

  4. I am 6 weeks out from a metric with 7,000 to 8,000 feet of climbing. I am 75 years old and have been riding for 35 years and have had some, but now a lot of mountain experience. Concerned with the descents and just purchased a bike with hydraulic dish brakes to control my speed as I weight 195 lbs. 🙂 How much distance and type of terrain and frequency would anyone recommend? Interested in opinions.

    1. Hi Ed,
      I’m 2 days out from a metric with about 6,000 feet of climbing. I’m 73, been cycling 60 years, 155#, and I’ve done this event before. I would agree with most of the advice here, but caution that it’s not tailored specifically for people our age. “Fast After 50” by Joe Friel explains the difference, but even Friel is writing for a younger audience. Mostly what I’ve noticed is decreasing ability to recover. Can’t go into the red, back off and recover, do it again as many times during a ride as I used to. Can’t go hard day after day like I used to. So here’s my specific advice: 1) Whatever you’ve been doing, keep it up for the next 4 weeks, maybe ramp up length/intensity, but not much. 2) Reserve two full weeks for taper. Short easy rides every other day. By event day you should be chomping at the bit to get on the bike and work hard. 3) Make sure your bike is geared low enough that you can climb most expected grades at or below lactate threshold; I’ll be riding 50-34 front and 11-34 rear. Good luck on your event!

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